How will you use your #PowerForGood? #AntiBullyingWeek #NoBystanders #LoveWins

THIS WEEK was Anti-Bullying Week in the UK, with the theme #PowerForGood – a challenge to each of us to speak up against the culture of bullying wherever we find it.

It struck me this year that the campaign, which normally focuses on schools and youth groups, is more needed than ever for all of us, given the rise in reported incidents of hate crime in the last six months. Reported racist incidents rose by 41%, and homophobic incidents by 147%, following the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in June.

The LGBT rights charity Stonewall has taken the opportunity this week to promote its #NoBystanders campaign, which aims to show how bullying is passed on throughout society if we are not educated about the consequences, victims are not supported and perpetrators challenged. This powerful campaign video encourages people to sign a pledge to challenge all forms of hateful language and abuse when they can.

Watch and pledge so there will be #NoBystanders:

A couple of months ago I was on my way to speak at a Stonewall Equality At Work conference in Leeds, when I unexpectedly had to make a decision about whether or not to be a bystander. I got on the bus to Liverpool Lime Street station with time to spare to catch the Leeds train I had booked on, and sat down to read an online article on my phone. At first I was absorbed in reading, but I began to be aware of the voice of a man from the back of the bus who was singing and chanting, with increasing volume. I began to hear racist language, then as his volume rose and I turned my attention to what was going on, he began to verbally abuse a woman seating near me on the other side of the bus. It wasn’t clear whether or not they knew each other – he was making personal remarks as if he did know her, but she was doing her best not to engage with him.

I felt torn between a responsibility either to challenge the man or show support for the woman, and a concern that if I got involved and had to report the incident I would miss my train and be late for the important anti-discrimination event I was on my way to attend. After a few more minutes, I felt I had to say something on the bus, as I have been in a similar situation before and was glad when others supported me. I wrote about it here.

By this time, the man was shouting at the woman, who called for the driver to stop the bus and report the incident. My concern about the incident and about missing my train both got the better of me – the bus had stopped, and the man started moving towards the door to get off, but was moving very slowly and verbally abusing the woman even more as he went. I made eye contact with her, then I looked at him as calmly as I could and said ‘Just go’. He turned his attention to me and verbally abused me too with a variety of spiteful language including slurs on my sexuality and implying I was a paedophile. He moved in closer to me, and I thought he was going to hit me, but he spat in my face then moved away towards the front of the bus. The driver refused to start the bus until he got off. He told the driver to call the police as he wasn’t going anywhere.

As the only door on the bus was at the front, I had to walk past him to get off. The woman told me to be careful that he didn’t hit out at me on the way. As I passed him, he verbally abused me some more. I turned to him and said ‘I have a train to catch, you have an attitude problem.’ He seemed surprised to be challenged without the same kind of language he was using. I got off without further incident.

I felt bad that I couldn’t stay to make a report to the police, but I was now cutting it fine for my train. I walked to Lime Street but I was a bit shaken up so I’m not sure I took the quickest route. I just missed the train and had to get the next one. I thought I was going to have to pay for another ticket but when I explained to the guard she showed mercy and it was fine! I also phoned Merseytravel’s Customer Hotline to report the incident on the bus and give my contact details in case there was any follow-up. I didn’t hear any more from them.

I made it to the Stonewall conference in Leeds just in time. As I had to keep my professional head on that afternoon, I don’t think the shock of the incident really hit me until the next day.
About 24 hours after the incident, I received an unexpected email on my work account from the woman on the bus,  which moved me deeply and helped me to feel better about having to walk away from the situation. I asked her permission to share it. She wrote:

I am the woman on the number 75 bus yesterday whom a man was abusing. I wanted to thank you for supporting me and also to let you know how things developed.

I rang the police and have made a statement. The girl who was sitting next to him had already informed the police by the time I rang. I made a full statement and included his abuse of you including spitting in your face.  I really thought that he was going to hit or head butt both you and I.

Like you, I use public transport a lot ( I’ve seen you in the bus before) and I realise that puts us at the mercy of drunken people and people with problems. I am a tolerant person and have a deep regard for anyone with mental health issues. However, I have a regard for my personal safety. I believe that the driver of the bus should have radioed through for assistance.  I freely admit that I was scared and felt vulnerable.

The police told me that he is wanted for other things as he was identified. I just wanted you to know that I appreciated you defending me and thereby putting yourself in danger and, how the situation had progressed. The girl on the back of the bus contacted me via Facebook last night as she had recognised me(!). Liverpool really is a village! I recognised you and found you!

I am a firm believer in standing up for one another and also reaching out to help others. You were the only person on the bus that day who had the courage to stand up for me and I thank you for that. In a world of increasing isolation, alienation and selfishness, your reaction was a shining light for me yesterday and a reminder that good people will always win out.

I replied to thank her, and asked how she recognised me and found out my name. She said:

I had seen you on the bus before and I recognise you from an article in the Echo as having the first civil ceremony. I found that article, got your name and then it was easy! Just call me Poirot!

She was referring to this report on my civil partnership in May 2012 – four and a half years ago – the first to be registered in a place of worship in the UK. What a memory!

Any doubt I had that I had done the wrong thing was gone – I was glad I had resisted the easy option of continuing to read and ignoring those around me.

What began as a horrible experience became an extraordinary encounter with the power of solidarity.

#PowerForGood #NoBystanders #LoveWins

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